How will 'AHS' handle Lily Rabe's return?

So, it's official: all of American Horror Story is connected... or at least so says showrunner Ryan Murphy. The first rumblings of this news started well before Season 4 of the anthology show premiered, when it was revealed that actress Naomi Grossman would be reprising her Asylum role as Briarcliff inmate Pepper on Freak Show. But now with the news that a second Asylum character will be popping up on Freak Show, it seems that the grand unifying theory of AHS is starting to take shape. But how exactly will Lily Rabe play into AHS: Freak Show ?

AHS fans were sad when it appeared that Rabe would not appear in Freak Show — the first season the popular actress would miss — due to her commitments as the star of ABC's upcoming alien invasion thriller The Whispers . (Rabe previously appeared as grieving ghost mother Nora Montgomery in Murder House, possessed Sister Mary Eunice in Asylum, and loner swamp witch Misty Day in Coven.) So it's welcome news that, while Rabe won't get the chance to craft a brand new character, she will at least be appearing on the show's fourth installment: she will turn up later this season as Sister Mary Eunice — sans the devil insider her, of course, since Freak Show takes place before the grisly events of Asylum.

As exciting as this news is, it raises some questions. Won't this connection between Seasons 2 and 4 result in some inconsistencies? In Asylum, we learned that Pepper was brought to Briarcliff after (allegedly) drowning her sister's baby and cutting off its ears (a crime actually committed by her brother-in-law, who framed her for the murder). But in Freak Show, we see Pepper as a relatively happy member of Elsa's Cabinet of Curiosities, with nary a sister, a brother-in-law, or a drowned baby in sight. What gives?

There are four distinct possibilities. The easiest — and least fun — is that the backstory is inconsistent simply because we're not meant to take the connection so literally. The appearances of Pepper and Mary are just Easter Eggs for diehard fans of the show. Hopefully more thought went into the game-changing decision to connect the seasons than that, so here are the other three possibilities:

  • The incident with the baby will happen later this season. Rabe's involvement in Freak Show was just announced, which means her appearance probably won't come until towards the very end of the season. That's plenty of time for Pepper's brother-in-law and sister to pop up, baby in tow, and for us to see the crime that led to Pepper's incarceration.
  • The incident with the baby already happened. Perhaps Elsa recruited Pepper from an asylum, post-baby-murder, just like she recruited Bette and Dot Tattler from the hospital post-mommy-murder. Pepper's allowed to be free as long as she's under supervision, but if Elsa were to die and/or the sideshow were to be closed down, Pepper would have to be re-committed to Briarcliff.
  • Sister Mary Eunice's appearance has nothing whatsoever to do with Pepper. Perhaps what we all assume is going to happen is actually just brilliant misdirection on Murphy's part. So what else might bring Mary to Jupiter, Fla.? Perhaps she's actually coming for somebody else... Maybe Elsa Mars, a nightclub singer who, after accidentally running over a young girl, decides to change her name to Jude and devote her life to the Church, eventually becoming head of Briarcliff?

OK, that last possibility may be a bit farfetched, but Murphy clearly has a lot more surprises up his sleeve for AHS fans, so don't be surprised if there's more than meets the eye to Rabe's role on Freak Show.

Images: Frank Ockenfels/FX; (3)